The Hamakua Coast—Hilo to Laupahoehoe
Just north of Hilo is the Hamakua Coast, an area of rainfall averaging 84 inches per year producing lush vegetation overlooking craggy sea cliffs and narrow bays with pounding surf. There are not many beaches along this part of Hawai‘I, but the views are spectacular. The area used to be the heart of the Big Island’s sugar cane production. Now the cane has gone, leaving quaint little towns that are struggling for the tourist trade.
Highway 19 leads North from Hilo and runs close to the coast and offers striking vistas, but for real excitement you have to leave the highway, about five miles past Hilo, and take the Old Mamalahoa Highway, a narrow, twisting road, that at times is almost in darkness from the thick canopy of trees over the road. The first stop on the road is Onomea Bay, a beautiful, but inaccessible bay. Actually, it is accessible if you are up for an arduous, dangerous hike. We contented ourselves with taking in the views from a lookout area. Farther on, is the Hawai‘I Tropical Botanical Garden, which affords an easier, though still difficult, access.
The road continues on across narrow streams and through forests. Nineteen miles from Onomea Bay is Laupahoehoe, population 581.The town itself is high up on the highway about 400 feet above sea level. A road leads down to a beach park on a peninsula of lava that juts out into the ocean.The name comes from “lau” meaning “leaf” indicating the shape of the peninsula, and “pahoehoe,” a type of lava that forms the peninsula.
Laupahoehoe was on the railroad that transported sugar cane from the plantations to the sugar mills and to Hilo. The railroad and part of the town were wiped out in a massive tidal wave on April 1, 1946. Twenty-six people died, twenty-one of them school children. The school was completely inundated. The tidal wave was the result of an earthquake in the Aleutian Islands. It was the most destructive tidal wave ever seen in the Island of Hawai‘I. Down at the beach park is a monument to the individuals who died in the wave and to the acts of bravery that save other lives. The tidal wave did damage and claimed lives at other parts of the island, including Hilo. In total, 160 people died in what came to be known as the April Fool’s Tidal Wave.
Go For Broke
After pushing the Germans into the Belmont area, the 2nd and 3rd battalions, aided by artillery fire from the the 522nd, captured the hamlet of La Broquane on October 21, 1944. They took 54 prisoners and a cache of weapons, for which F and L companies earned a Presidential Unit Citation.
At the same time, Major General John Dahlquist, commander of the 36th Division, ordered the 100th to take a ridge overlooking the town of Biffontaine. They were more than a mile from friendly forces. After the 100th dug in, the Germans attacked from three sides with artillery and rockets. Although the 100th held the ridge, they ran low on supplies. Men and tanks of the 2nd battalion tried to reach them, but encountered fierce resistance from the Germans, including bicycle troops attacking the 100th. Soldiers of the 2nd eventually broke through to the 100th with the aid of French resistance.
Shortly after being resupplied, Dahlquist ordered the 100th to descend the ridge and take the town of Biffontaine. It was generally thought that Biffontaine had no strategic value. Nevertheless, the 100th undertook the mission. They experienced some early successes in capturing German prisoners, some houses, and some arms supplies. The Germans, however, regrouped and aimed artillery fire on the town and the 100th positions. Once again, the 100th exhausted their supplies, including the supplies they had captured. Despite being out of radio contact with the 7th Army, they held on, engaging in house to house fighting for more than two days. In total, they had been fighting for more than a week, some men having not slept in the eight days since the battle for Bruyeres had begun. On October 23, the 3rd battalion broke through to the 100th.
Biffontaine was a farming hamlet of 300 people with no rail line. In liberating it, the 100th lost 21 killed, 120 wounded and 18 captured. The 442nd handed it over to the 143rd Infantry of the 36th Division. Dahlquist’s decision to take the insignificant town of Biffontaine, among other decisions, called into question his leadership, especially of the 442nd. By his actions, he seemed to consider the Nisei, expendable cannon fodder.
Although the fighting for Bruyeres and Biffontaine were difficult and costly, worse lay ahead in only a short time.
Medal of Honor
Ohata, Allan Masaharu
Rank and organization:’Staff Sergeant, U.S. Army, Company B, 100th Infantry Battalion (Separate)
Place and date:Cerasuolo, Italy, November 29, 1943
Entered service at:Schofield Barracks, Hawaii
Born:’September 13, 1918, Honolulu, Hawaii
Sergeant Allan M. Ohata distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action on 29 and November 30, 1943, near Cerasuolo, Italy. Sergeant Ohata, his squad leader, and three men were ordered to protect his platoon’s left flank against an attacking enemy force of 40 men, armed with machine guns, machine pistols, and rifles. He posted one of his men, an automatic rifleman, on the extreme left, 15 yards from his own position. Taking his position, Sergeant Ohata delivered effective fire against the advancing enemy. The man to his left called for assistance when his automatic rifle was shot and damaged. With utter disregard for his personal safety, Sergeant Ohata left his position and advanced 15 yards through heavy machine gun fire. Reaching his comrade’s position, he immediately fired upon the enemy, killing 10 enemy soldiers and successfully covering his comrade’s withdrawal to replace his damaged weapon. Sergeant Ohata and the automatic rifleman held their position and killed 37 enemy soldiers. Both men then charged the three remaining soldiers and captured them. Later, Sergeant Ohata and the automatic rifleman stopped another attacking force of 14, killing four and wounding three while the others fled. The following day he and the automatic rifleman held their flank with grim determination and staved off all attacks. Staff Sergeant Ohata’s extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit on him, his unit, and the United States Army.